The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'galambosianism'
Aaron Swartz, esteemed hacker, co-creator of Reddit and inventor of the RSS 1.0 standard, committed suicide recently. Swartz was facing trial for illegally downloading a cache of academic documents from closed academic publishing site JSTOR (as pure a rent-seeking monopoly as exists, extracting lucrative sums from academic libraries and private user alike for access to academic papers which they contributed nothing to the creation of) by placing a laptop in a closet at MIT and fraudulently changing the laptop's MAC address to give it access to MIT's protected network, and apparently also for having pissed off the FBI at some point. There was no evidence of him having made any of the papers available to the general public, but nonetheless, the US Department of Justice decided to make an example of him, pushing for a sentence of 30-50 years.
- Copyfight advocate Lawrence Lessig on the disproportionate hounding of Swartz by the DoJ.
- The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”, by computer security expert Alex Stamos, who served as an expert witness at the trial.
- Tributes from Tim Berners-Lee, and from the WikiMedia Foundation
In 18th-century England, when they hanged a highwayman, his corpse would be dipped in tar and hung in an iron cage along the side of a highway, as a grim warning to any others contemplating a career of highway robbery. From the point of view of the US Department of Justice, or more specifically, the rent-seeking corporations licensed to make money from the intellectual property system as it stands today, Swartz, with his radical views on open access to information, was the modern-day equivalent of a highwayman, an enemy of the system of intellectual property licensing and the structures of ownership and control built atop it, shoring up the stabilities of the status quo. Were he convicted (or bankrupted by the costs of defending himself), he would have served as the tarred corpse swinging in a gibbet alongside the Information Superhighway, an equally grim warning to any aspiring Information Superhighwaymen that you don't fuck with intellectual property, ever. Or, in other words: if you break the law, the law will break you. An upheld conviction, however, was no guarantee. Dead, arguably, he can serve the same role just as well, without the risk of him being released on appeal. To others, he will be a martyr for the Copyfight and/or an example of the iniquities of a system run for the benefit of corporate rentiers.
Life in the Galambosian age of intellectual-property maximalism: When Spanish octogenarian Cecilia Giménez took it upon herself to restore a crumbling fresco in a local chapel and, inadvertently made a monkey out of Jesus,the chapel was inundated with visitors who weren't leaving donations, and soon its owners, a hospital foundation, began charging an entry fee to see the newly famous work (dubbed “Ecce Mono”, or sometimes “Rhesus Christ”). Now, Giménez' family has lawyered up and are suing for royalties from her handiwork.
The Giménez family are not yet going after internet users reposting this meme for copyright infringement, but let's not give them any ideas.
This is why we can't have nice things: One of the fastest growing technological business sectors in the US is patent trolling; i.e., buying up portfolios of patents and using them as letters of marque to shake down those who actually make things. The US's broad patent laws, and the ability to shop for favourable jurisdictions (there's one in East Texas which has a habit of siding with the litigant and awarding generous damages) makes this possible.
Now, patent trolls have started shaking down independent mobile app developers (these don't have legal departments, and can be counted on to pay up even if, say, Apple or Google might end up prevailing in court). A company named Lodsys started threatening anyone who uses Apple's in-app purchase mechanism, and more recently, a Mumbai-based company started demanding money from anyone who connects to Twitter, claiming that they infringed on an as yet ungranted patent application covering a broad range of activities involving real-time communication. And now, non-US developers are withdrawing their apps from the US market, on the grounds that the risk of ruinous litigation makes it too dangerous:
Simon Maddox, a UK developer, has removed all his apps from US app stores on both iOS and Android for fear of being sued by Lodsys, a company which has already sued a number of iOS and Android developers which it says infringe its software patent.
But for US-based developers, the problems remain. Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, developer of Twitterrific, remarked that "Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, they do and tweeted that "I became an independent developer to control my own destiny. I no longer do". Iconfactory is among those being targeted by Lodsys, but earlier this week was granted a 30-day extension to reply to Lodsys's claim.The patent-troll problem does not apply in the EU, whose parliament narrowly avoided introducing US-style patent laws. It's not clear whether they apply in Australia (weren't US-style software patents, if not the direct applicability of US patents, introduced in the Howard-era free trade agreement?)
Three young girls in Poole, Dorsetshire received a lesson in property rights after being told off by police for picking flowers in a park, which is technically theft of council property:
But Councillor Peter Adams, who said a family member of his had reported the incident, said taking the flowers amounted to stealing and the behaviour was "unacceptable".
Whitecliff is a council-owned park and therefore removing property from it is technically classed as an offence.Cllr. Adams stated that the girls were not merely picking a few flowers, but removing them in large quantities. Perhaps they were running some sort of industrial bouquet-making operation?
Did you know that, if you shoot any video with a modern digital video camera and attempt to utilise it commercially, the holders of the video encoder patents are entitled to royalties on each copy made? This is why, for instance, all digital video cameras, up to the highest-end HD ones, are licensed only for non-commercial use; commercial users need to negotiate with a shadowy private consortium named MPEG-LA:
I was first made aware of such a restriction when someone mentioned that in a forum, about the Canon 7D dSLR. I thought it didn't apply to me, since I had bought the double-the-price, professional (or at least prosumer), Canon 5D Mark II. But looking at its license agreement last night (page 241), I found out that even my $3000 camera comes with such a basic license. So, I downloaded the manual for the Canon 1D Mark IV, which costs $5000, and where Canon consistently used the word "professional" and "video" on the same sentence on their press release for that camera. Nope! Same restriction: you can only use your professional video dSLR camera (professional, according to Canon's press release), for non-professional reasons. And going even further, I found that even their truly professional video camcorder, the $8000 Canon XL-H1A that uses mpeg2, also comes with the exact same restriction. You can only use your professional camera for non-commercial purposes. For any other purpose, you must get a license from MPEG-LA and pay them royalties for each copy sold.Even worse: uploading video shot with one of those cameras in a free codec doesn't help, because exporting it to the free codec violates the licensing terms, and also it's not unlikely that all modern codecs fall foul of MPEG-LA's patents.
And that's how an artistic culture can ROT. By creating the circumstances where making art, in a way that doesn't get in your way, is illegal. Only big corporations would be able to even grab a camera and shoot. And if only big corporations can shoot video that they can share (for free or for money), then we end up with what Creative Commons' founder, Larry Lessig, keeps saying: a READ-ONLY CULTURE.
The New Labour government is planning to rush through draconian new copyright laws in the form of the Digital Economy Bill. Drafted by the recording industry and big media, this bill will nobble the internet in Britain. (Among other things, wireless access points in cafés, libraries and pubs will be too great a copyright liability to operate, and ISPs will be obliged to block file exchange services like YouSendIt if they allow users to potentially infringe copyrights.)
According to a leaked memo from the BPI, MPs are resigned to passing this without debate, and the compliant New Labour leadership are determined to force it through in this form. In fact, the BPI fears this bill being subjectdd to parliamentary debate, knowing that were it to be so, the whole odious, iniquitous package would crumble like a vampire in sunlight.
Which is why it's important to contact your MP and ensure that they put the pressure on to get the Digital Economy Bill into the light. And you can contact your MP here.
A US company is developing a system that models and replicates the styles of famous musicians. Details of how Zenph Sound Innovations' system works are scant (apparently "complex software" is used, which simulates the musicians' styles, and the resulting high-resolution MIDI files are played on robotic musical instruments; currently pianos, though a double bass and saxophone are in the works).
Currently, it is capable of reconstructing a performer's style of playing a specific work, from a recording of the work, and can be used to rebuild flawed recordings. It cannot yet play a new piece in a performer's style, though the developers are planning to work on that next.
“It introduces a whole bunch of interesting intellectual-property issues, but eventually, you ought to be able to, in essence, cast your own band,” said Frey. “You should be able to write a piece of music and for the drum piece, have Keith Moon, and for the guitar piece, you can have Eric Clapton — that is a derivation of understanding each of those artists’ styles as a digital signature. That’s further down the road, but initially, you’re going to have the ability for artist to create music and have the listener manipulate how they want to hear it — [for example] sadder.”The intellectual-property implications alluded to are interesting; the prospect is raised of a new type of copyright, over an artist's style, being created, with the artist or their estate collecting royalties from replication of their style. While this is perfectly consistent with the copyright-maximalist ideology of the corporate-dominated, post-industrial present day, it ignores the fact that artists emulate other artists all the time. While initially, courts would exercise "common sense" and leave non-software-based copyists alone (i.e., Oasis wouldn't owe licensing fees to the Beatles), sooner or later, once the technology becomes the norm, this original intent would be forgotten and, after a few strategic court cases, a new precedent would be set, declaring styles, and the elements of them, to be licensable, much in the way that patents are, and requiring anyone taking them off to license them, much as anyone sampling even a split-second of a recording has to license it. (In the age of powerful rights-licensing corporations with political clout, intellectual-property law is a ratchet that turns only one way.) Soon, the different elements of musical style would end up aggregated in the hands of a few gigantic rightsholders with well-resourced legal teams, and musicians would be routinely slugged with heavy bills, itemised by stylistic elements.
The tragedy of the commons occurs when there is insufficient ownership of common assets, which, as a result, become overused. But now, in the age of monetisation, copyright expansionism and corporate legislative power grabs, we are seeing the opposite: the tragedy of the anticommons, where there are too many rightsholders needed to negotiate with and pay off (each doing their duty to their shareholders by being as greedy as they can be), and many endeavours are no longer viable:
The commons leads to overuse and destruction; the anticommons leads to underuse and waste. In the cultural sphere, ever tighter restrictions on copyright and fair use limit artists’ abilities to sample and build on older works of art. In biotechnology, the explosion of patenting over the past twenty-five years—particularly efforts to patent things like gene fragments—may be retarding drug development, by making it hard to create a new drug without licensing myriad previous patents. Even divided land ownership can have unforeseen consequences. Wind power, for instance, could reliably supply up to twenty per cent of America’s energy needs—but only if new transmission lines were built, allowing the efficient movement of power from the places where it’s generated to the places where it’s consumed. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Most of the land that the grid would pass through is owned by individuals, and nobody wants power lines running through his back yard.
Recent experimental work by the psychologist Sven Vanneste and the legal scholar Ben Depoorter helps explain why. When something you own is necessary to the success of a venture, even if its contribution is small, you’ll tend to ask for an amount close to the full value of the venture. And since everyone in your position also thinks he deserves a huge sum, the venture quickly becomes unviable. So the next time we start handing out new ownership rights—whether via patents or copyright or privatization schemes—we’d better try to weigh all the good things that won’t happen as a result. Otherwise, we won’t know what we’ve been missing.This effect is the subject of a new book, The Gridlock Economy, by Michael Heller, a law professor at Columbia University.
Last year, the Gowers report, commissioned by the British government, rejected the recording industry's call to extend sound recording copyrights in Europe. Recently, however, the recording industry scored a coup, in putting a copyright-extension directive before the EU. Here is a petition against it, organised by the EFF and Open Rights Group:
Copyright is a bargain. In exchange for their investment in creating and distributing sound recordings to the public, copyright holders are granted a limited monopoly during which are allowed to control the use of those recordings. This includes the right to pursue anyone who uses their recordings without permission. But when this time is up, these works join Goethe, Hugo and Shakespeare in the proper place for all human culture – the public domain. In practice, because of repeated term extensions and the relatively short time in which sound recording techniques have been available, there are no public domain sound recordings.The idea of copyright as a bargain, a deliberately limited monopoly, is one which has largely been erased from the public consciousness, through the introduction of a new concept a few decades ago—the concept of "intellectual property". When one thinks of ideas as property, copyright seems not as an unnatural, and mercifully limited, restriction on the natural flow of culture, but as an injustice in the opposite direction—the only form of property which expires in a few decades—and the idea of perpetual copyright, towards which we have been moving with copyright-term-extension bills and harmonisation treaties every few decades, seems, for a moment, like a much-needed correction of an unjust oversight, rather than the greedy, neo-feudal abomination it is. Whoever came up with the term "intellectual property" is a powerful sorcerer indeed.
(via Boing Boing)
Hasbro take legal action to shut down Scrabulous. I'm surprised it took them this long. I wonder whether they'll be smart enough to come to a deal, either acquiring Scrabulous or licensing it in return for a share of the (considerable) ad revenue, or whether they'll just sue it into oblivion to teach them a lesson, undoubtedly cheered on by the Ayn Rand fanboys loudly defending anything they may choose to do in the comments.
The Scrabulous servers are in India, which may be hard to shut down, though Facebook could block the application immediately. And the authors should probably avoid any country with an extradition treaty with the US unless this is settled.
The Australian government is about to enact draconian new copyright laws that, by lowering burdens of proof, expose people doing everyday things to severe criminal liabilities:
"As an example," said Mr Coroneos, "a family who holds a birthday picnic in a place of public entertainment (for example, the grounds of a zoo) and sings 'Happy Birthday' in a manner that can be heard by others, risks an infringement notice carrying a fine of up to $1320. If they make a video recording of the event, they risk a further fine for the possession of a device for the purpose of making an infringing copy of a song. And if they go home and upload the clip to the internet where it can be accessed by others, they risk a further fine of up to $1320 for illegal distribution. All in all, possible fines of up to $3960 for this series of acts -- and the new offences do not require knowledge or improper intent. Just the doing of the acts is enough to ground a legal liability under the new 'strict liability' offences."There's more about the laws here. Apparently the fines will be summary, and not require court offences, and possession of MP3s ripped from CDs you have purchased will be a criminal offense liable to such fines. Which is not to say that the police will be doing mass copyright audits of suburbia anytime soon, but theoretically, if you're carrying a MP3 player and are stopped by a police officer who doesn't like your look/attitude, they will have the power to fine you. The laws could also end up creating an industry of copyright bounty hunters who seek out and prosecute infringers, pocketing a share of the takings (as has happened in the US War On Drugs).
Anyway, the laws have been passed by the House of Representatives, and are being fast-tracked through the Senate. If you live in Australia, it might be an idea to contact your senator now. That and preparing to destroy all copies of your MP3 collection/videotaped TV shows.
In Japan, an elderly man has been arrested for playing copyrighted Beatles songs on his harmonica without permission. It turns out that 73-year-old Masami Toyoda is a serial copyright pirate, having repeatedly performed copyrighted songs in the past.
A US lawyer has noticed plugging a dangerous hole in the world's intellectual-property regime, a hole which costs chefs and restauranteurs untold godzillions of dollars: the fact that food cannot be copyrighted, and it is perfectly legal for any pirasite who can determine how you created your culinary masterpiece to rip it off without paying you a cent. Not to worry: Steven Shaw has come up with a scheme for bringing food into the realm of intellectual property:
First, he'd propose changing the copyright code, possibly by making cuisine a subdivision of the existing category for sculpture or acknowledging recipes as a form of literary expression. For enforcement, Shaw leans toward creating a system like ASCAP, an association that collects composers' royalties for public performances of songs--on the radio, in nightclubs and so on...Magnanimously, Shaw has left classic recipes like French onion soup in the public domain. Anything new, however, could be copyrighted. So if you invent a variant of French onion soup with a few extra ingredients, you could demand a licensing fee from anyone else who serves it. In Shaw's world, restaurants would be billed by collection agencies for the recipes they used, the takings of which would be distributed (after administrative expenses) among the authors of recipes. (It is not clear how this would apply to home cooking; perhaps cookbooks would come with a shrinkwrapped EULA which would give the user the right to use the recipes in their own home, feeding at most N people, as long as they had possession of the book; meanwhile, microwaveable ready meals and jars of sauce would carry a patronising "Don't Steal Recipes / Respect Intellectual Property" sticker.) The sudden influx of financial reward to previously deprived cooks would bring in a new golden age of culinary creativity as never before. The lawyers would allow themselves a moment to bask in the satisfaction of a job well done, though not more than a moment; after all, there are still other domains of human endeavour in need of rescuing from lack of ownership.
(via Boing Boing)
If you liked the digital rights management systems built into the DVD standard, wait until you see what Blu-Ray has in store. Under the Blu-Ray standard, not only will discs be protected against you, the potential thief/economic terrorist, piratically shifting content to your iPod for illicit on-the-road viewing, but the studios be able to remotely kill any player whose model key has been compromised; which means that if anyone cracks the scheme, Big Copyright pushes the big red button and all players of that model go up in virtual smoke. Not only that, but the players will refuse to play any format which hasn't been cryptographically signed by the studios, thus giving Big Copyright a monopoly over any content they can play. Forget about making your own Blu-Ray content; since a Blu-Ray player cannot reliably distinguish between your indie machinima masterpiece and an illicit copy of Spiderman 3 taped with a camcorder in a cinema, all user-created content is verboten, and Blu-Ray will merely be a trough for feeding corporate content to passive consumers.
It looks like the new, less-draconian copyright laws in Australia won't be all that much to be happy about. Under the laws, whilst ripping non-copy-protected CDs will be legal (though only to other formats), you will only be allowed to watch a recorded TV programme once, and then obliged to delete it. Taping a TV show for a mate will be a crime. Which means that Australia will once again be a nation of criminals, unless, of course, all personal video recorders sold in Australia are configured to enforce the view-only-once restriction. And before you go off to start your BitTorrent client, keep in mind that, as a concession to Big Copyright in return for allowing you to rip your CDs, your taxes are paying for police officers to monitor internet connections, having access to the surveillance infrastructure mandated after 9/11 and using state-of-the-art automated tools to detect, trace and prosecute file sharing, and that the burden of proof has been shifted to make it harder to evade prosecution. If you break the law, the law will break you.
The Australian government has agreed to legalise ripping CDs and recording TV programmes, which had been illegal since the new US-designed copyright laws, as well as introducing US-style fair-use provisions. However, it will come at a price: a zero-tolerance crackdown on file sharing on the internet:
Police will be able to issue on-the-spot fines and access and recover profits made by copyright pirates. Courts will be given powers to award larger damages payouts against internet pirates. Civil infringement proceedings will apply to copyright pirates who make electronic reproductions or copies of copyright material.The surveillance part of it is easy enough: I once heard that in Australia, all internet connections legally have to go through points where the police may access them, and as such, cable ISPs block customers on the same access point from connecting directly to each other. (Incidentally, this was in the late 1990s, before the Homeland Security Age.) The on-the-spot fines sound trickier: will police determine, on the spot, whether a file downloaded is copyrighted, or will the act outlaw all use of file-sharing software? (The latter sounds like a very Australian majoritarian approach: given that, anecdotally, only a minority of files shared thus are licensed to be done so, the Australian thing to do would be to cut the Gordian knot of liberal free-speech handwringing and outlaw it altogether, much as they do with controversial films and video games and the proposed internet firewall.) And will the police aggressively prosecute, say, people sharing copies of long out-of-print recordings?
There is a new weapon in the War Against Copyterrorism: dogs trained to sniff out DVDs. The dogs, trained by the MPAA, have been deployed at a FedEx hub in the UK, identifying packages containing burned DVDs for customs inspection. Now there's one fewer place for pirates to hide.
(It wouldn't surprise me if Australian Customs have some DVD-sniffing dogs in operation. I sent a package containing a DVD-R (containing perfectly legitimate material, mind you) to Australia a while ago, and it took a few weeks to get there; I wonder whether a few days of that were the result of customs inspectors trying to determine whether it violated copyright, censorship and/or homeland-security laws.)
Huge, terrifying US retail chain Wal-Mart is now claiming a trademark on the smiley-face graphic; you know, the round yellow one which was created in the 1960s by one of three people and used as a symbol of the acid-house scene.
Until now the smiley face had been considered in the public domain in the US, and therefore free for anyone to use. Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley told the Los Angeles Times that it had not moved to register the trademark until Mr Loufrani had threatened to do so.
The next thing after digital rights management (DRM) may be attention rights management (ARM), which ensures that advertisers get the eyeballs they have paid good money for. Already, the signs are there: Philips have filed for a patent on a broadcast flag to prevent viewers from skipping ads. And don't try channel-surfing either, as that's blocked as well:
Philips suggests adding flags to commercial breaks to stop a viewer from changing channels until the adverts are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.
The patent also suggests that the system could offer viewers the chance to pay a fee interactively to go back to skipping adverts.Of course, you can still get up and go to the kitchen to grab a snack. Perhaps the next generation will have set-top boxes capable of counting viewers with an infrared camera, and getting petulant (or charging an "ad-skipping fee" to the subscriber's account) if people leave during the ads?
Philips' patent acknowledges that this may be "greatly resented by viewers" who could initially think their equipment has gone wrong.They don't say...
US liberal website Mother Jones has a list of the most absurd excesses of intellectual property:
BILL GATES had the 11-million-image Bettmann Archive buried 220 feet underground. Archivists can access only the 2% that was first digitized.
MICROSOFT UK held a contest for the best film on "intellectual property theft"; finalists had to sign away "all intellectual property rights" on "terms acceptable to Microsoft."
U.S. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is valued at $5.5 trillion, equal to 47% of our GDP and greater than the GDP of any other nation but China.
A FRENCH DIRECTOR had to pay $1,300 after a character in his film whistled the communist anthem, "The Internationale," without permission.
RENTAMARK.COM makes money by claiming ownership of 10,000 phrases, including "chutzpah," "casual Fridays," ".com," "fraud investigation," and "big breasts."
(via Boing Boing)
Another harbinger of the slow march to Galambosianism: a German chef is asking the EU to create a new copyright-like right covering recipes, giving him the right to collect royalties from those using his recipes. His notion of "cookyright" has the backing of the Italian Collecting Society, which I gather is a rights-enforcement agency.
(via Boing Boing)
In the US, the copyright industry is pushing for a law requiring anything capable of digitising video signals to respond to hidden embedded signals, originally designed for Voltron toys in the 1980s, and to refuse to digitise the content if it is marked as copyrighted.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the same technology is being embedded into plastic dolls of a cricketer, given away with bottles of Victoria Bitter; the signals they respond to will be embedded in broadcasts of the cricket:
Booney dolls went live on Friday the 13th of January with the first match of the VB One Day series, and internet blogs and discussion sites have been debating since then what makes them tick. Booney is activated an hour before each one-day match by an internal timer set to eastern standard time (a glitch for those viewing matches televised on delay in Perth). His first words are "get me a VB, the cricket is about to start", a cross-marketing plug for VB and the cricket that sets the stage for his main performance during the game.
Booney's timer chip is programmed to trigger random comments while the match is in progress, and to announce a codeword for that day's Boonanza competition, in which viewers can win cricket memorabilia prizes (separately, those buying slabs have the chance to win three "Boonanza Utes" and 90 flat-screen TVs).
The major innovation is that Booney's chip responds to four audible triggers broadcast by Nine during matches, to generate targeted comments about bowling, batting, general play and VB advertisements.
Booney's vocabulary ranges from the inane ("Got any nachos? I love nachos") to ones that boost the two key products — the cricket ("He's seeing them like watermelons") and the beer ("Got a beer yet?").
A chilling account of how the future may look if the intellectual-property industry gets its way and gets universal digital rights management on everything capable of handling their precious content:
Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics, your personal server and peripherals, even your watch, and you had better not be wearing smart spectacles or contacts. As you enter the security zone you're scanned for anything you may have forgotten. Cochlea and optical implants must be capable of responding with a coded RF identification signal to indicate their systems are secure and cannot record. People with older models, or models implanted abroad where such interrogation is illegal, are turned away. Perhaps they would like to see one of the older releases?
These days it seems like every time you turn on one of your gadgets you have to fight with its DRM to get it to do what you want. The home movie of your daughter opening her birthday presents is ruined by a patch of grey fog that shifts with every movement of the camera, tracking sluggishly to keep the TV screen in the background obscured. From the codes embedded in TV's update pattern your camera had decided the show was not licensed for this form of reproduction and blocked it. You wish you had thought to turn it off at the time, but squinting into the camera's tiny screen it hadn't looked so bad.
You just don't see physical media anymore. Too easily duplicated, their security too easily cracked, they've been dropped in favour of heavily encrypted and vendor-locked streaming media. You don't 'own' copies of any music or movies these days, instead your monthly subscriptions grant you only the right to temporarily buffer a few seconds of the distributor's authorised files while you watch or listen. Ultimately, that was the reason ad-hoc networking protocols and mobile PC technologies were pushed so hard, not because the customers wanted them but because the music and movie industries needed them to replace the vulnerable duplication method normally needed for such mobile media.
The only way writers can get their novels read, or musicians have their music heard, is by signing with a content provider who will claim the work as their own and charge people for access. It's nearly impossible for artists to make money anymore. The celebrities you read about, the millionaires who's contribution to the industry was actually rewarded, are a microscopic minority. But wasn't it always that way? There is nothing to stop an author from reading a work aloud in public, or a band from performing to a live audience, but few beyond that space will hear it. Hardly anyone has access to the technology that would let them record what they're hearing, at least not in any permanent form, and even fewer have the means to share it once they have. And god forbid the artists accidentally use a sentence or lyric already claimed by one of the corporations...
(via bOING bOING)
The latest innovation from the US intellectual-property industry, following software patents and business model patents, is plot patents, i.e., the possibility of patenting a storyline and suing those thieves, parasites and second-handers who infringe on it, ushering in a new golden age of Randian/Galambosian creativity and wealth, and/or a new dark age where freedom of expression belongs solely to those with deep pockets or powerful backers:
The value of a performance is protected by copyright; the value of an invention is not. An artistic innovator is given but two choices absent patent protection: to sacrificially innovate for the unearned benefit of thieves, or to not innovate. Both options are morally and practically repulsive.The firm in question is confident that storyline patents will stand up in court, and has started filing and publishing them; for a fee, you can patent your latest story. Mind you, the US Patent Office hasn't actually decided on whether such patents are valid, but until and unless it shoots them down, the holders of the applications are entitled to litigate against those infringing their patents.
(via bOING bOING)
Recording company bosses are livid after the BBC makes MP3s of Beethoven's symphonies available for downloading:
Managing director of the Naxos label, Anthony Anderson, said: "I think there is a question of whether a publicly funded broadcaster should be doing this and there is the obvious issue that it is devaluing the perceived value of music. You are also leading the public to think that it is fine to download and own these files for nothing."Of course, the value of music that the label executives are so valiantly defending is not its use value (how much enjoyment it can bring) but its exchange value (how useful it is as a currency).
In today's dominant ideology of Reaganite-Thatcherite monetarism, where the key participants are corporations (beings incapable of actually experiencing the use value of art) and humans are merely the microorganisms in their guts, art is primarily currency; any subjective artistic or aesthetic value is secondary. Scarcity is essential to the value of a currency, and any loss of scarcity damages that value. Which is why copying is seen not as cultural cross-pollination but as equivalent to currency counterfeiting, making music available for free, even when legal, is considered unethical.
Galambosianism is alive and well in Illinois, where a man claims total ownership of all rights to several words including "stealth". He has successfully held off stealth-fighter maker Northrop-Grumman, won a few thousand dollars from joke site stealthdisco.com (which showed clips of employees dancing silently for a moment or two near the desks of unsuspecting colleagues), and even managed to shut down StealThisEmail.com because it contained "stealth", and is now in court against Sony's Columbia Pictures, who are about to release an action movie titled Stealth. Oh, and he also claims ownership over a number of other words, including "chutzpah".
Another minor label is set to bite the dust; Sanctuary Records, home of Morrissey, is reportedly in talks with EMI and Warner, who are interested in buying it. Given how independent labels have a way of losing their vision and going to shit when bought out by the majors (look at Def Jam, Mute or Creation, for examples), this can't be good. (OTOH, it can be argued that Creation went to shit before Sony invested a penny in them, probably thanks to Alan McGee's cocaine-fuelled loss of taste, though the other two examples stand.)
Meanwhile, the British government intends to double the copyright term of recorded music, saving the Beatles' recordings from the ignominy of falling to the public domain in the 2010s and to ensure that the big record companies have a steady flow of income, because as we all know, that's good for all society. I mean, if EMI don't have the guaranteed income of the Long Tail of Beatles copyrights in perpetuity, they may sadly be unable to sign the next Coldplay or Kasabian or Sugababes or whoever.
And those all-round monopolists and homogenisers, Wal-Mart, provide yet another reason to hate them: their in-store photo processing services refuse to print photographs that look too good, just in case they are copyright violations:
Spokeswoman Jackie Young said Wal-Mart is "a littler tougher than the copyright law dictates."
"We want to protect professional photographers' rights," Young said. "We will not copy a photograph if it appears to be taken by a professional photographer or studio."
She related the case of a bride whose wedding photos were rejected by Wal-Mart because they "looked like high-resolution quality."
The MPAA show their bizarre, fundamentalist views on intellectual property yet again, this time by sending legal nastygrams to websites using the MPAA's ratings code; i.e., if you claim that your website, photo gallery, Harry Potter fan-fiction story or whatever is G (or PG or R or whatever)-rated, you can expect a cease-and-desist notice in the mail:
"We have a right to go after people who use our trademarks without permission, big or small, whenever we find out about them," said John Feehery, executive vice president for the association. "Our ratings are not supposed to be ripped off."
Wendy Seltzer, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that the association would have a point only if the fiction sites had claimed that association reviewers had rated the works. Using the ratings as a rough comparison is not a trademark infringement, she said: "It's like saying a beverage tastes like Coke."
I'm hoping that this does go to court and the MPAA get a good caning, which, if anything resembling common sense prevails, they should.
Meanwhile, if you're content with the G, PG and R ratings, you can always claim that you're using the Australian ones and not the U.S. ones; the Australian Office of Film and Literature Censorship may be Bowdlerites, but they're probably not Galambosians.
Irony of the day: the anthem of Communism, The Internationale is copyrighted; a filmmaker in France is being shaken down for US$1,283 for having someone whistle the song without permission in one of his films.
Under French law, "The Internationale" won't fall into the public domain until 2014 70 years of post-mortem protection plus extra time to cover the world war. Degeyter died in 1932.
(Via bOING bOING, who point out that there's (a fragment of) a decent electropop version of The Internationale here. Funnily enough, a while ago, I thought that a happy-hardcore/doof/indie-dance version, with some dude rapping about dialectic materialism in the middle, would work well at the numerous anti-capitalism rallies the lefties kept having before 9/11.)
(via bOING bOING)
Another chapter in the annals of if-value-then-right: as maximalist interpretations of intellectual property dominate, defense contractors are fulfilling their duty to their shareholders by shaking model kit manufacturers down for hefty royalties, sometimes demanding as much as US$40 per kit. The old way of doing things, letting modelmakers sell kits for free and treating it as good publicity, is no longer accepted practice; these days, it's considered less as good publicity and more as negligence or mismanagement. Ironically, one effect this may have is the disappearance of kits for anything but royalty-free items, such as WW2 Nazi vehicles (for which there is no rightsholder*) and World War 1 items.
* Surely this is an oversight; had today's concept of intellectual property been current in 1945, the Allies would not have allowed the intellectual-property rights to Nazi vehicles to expire; perhaps they would have been auctioned to licensing companies shortly afterward. (On a tangent, had intellectual-property maximalism been the dominant doctrine in 1945, a lot of other things would have been possible, such assigning the swastika and the name and likeness of Adolf Hitler™ to an anti-Nazi foundation and allowing them to sue neo-Nazis for infringement, but I digress.)
Anyway, it's interesting to note that Allied vehicles from WW2 are still intellectual property. It was asserted, not too long ago, that the reason why historical cable-TV channels show so many World War 2 documentaries is because there is a lot of footage from that era which is in the public domain; elsewhere, it was suggested that in more recent documentary footage, if someone is accidentally filmed wearing a trademarked brand-logo hat, that requires the filmmaker to obtain rights from the owner of the trademark to use the footage. I wonder if whoever owns the rights to the Spitfire and such can figure out a way of putting these two facts together and monetising the rights to their trademarks appearing in WW2 documentary newsreels.
The privatisation of the space of concepts keeps marching on; now, it turns out likenesses of the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted, and cannot be published without a licence. The city of Paris and the company which maintains the tower managed to do this by adorning it with a distinctive lighting display, which they then copyrighted; consequently, any recent night-time photograph of the Eiffel Tower is a derivative work. In their infinite generosity, they have said that they are not interested in going after amateurs putting holiday photographs of the tower on their web sites; they are, however, technically in violation. Which means that this WikiMedia image is technically in violation. And so, the space of free public discourse narrows slightly.
I wonder what's next: perhaps Ken Livingstone will copyright the names of London Underground lines and stations and demand licensing fees from fiction authors who mention them or something?
Eventually, we will get to the situation where all real-world objects and likenesses are intellectual property and use of them requires licensing fees. (After all, the dominant Reaganite/Thatcherite ideology of our time says that the way to maximise the efficient use of any resource is to monetise it and place it on the market; coupled with intellectual property, the natural conclusion is what Lawrence Lessig calls an "if-value-then-right" intellectual property regime, where for any value in an item, there is a right assigned to a rightsholder, who can license that right on the open market. Think of the colossal economic waste we had in the bad old days of the public domain and Jeffersonian copyrights.) As depicting any public figure, fictional character, location or privatised folklore will require a licence, costing fees and giving rightsholders vetoes over works they find objectionable, stories (well, those without the corporate media backing required to resolve all the rights issues) will move to generic locations; nameless, nondescript buildings, cities, countries and characters will take hold. To which, Big Copyright will respond by copyrighting categories of ideas (in the way that Marvel and DC Comics claimed a joint trademark on superheroes), or by patenting common types of plot devices and settings (which is probably not legal now, though given sufficiently pliant legislators and international treaty bodies, anything's possible). Galambosianism, here we come.
As the reach of copyright laws is expanded and rightsholders (or their investors) are demanding as much income from each piece of intellectual property in the asset register, documentary makers are getting the rough end of the pineapple. Old documentaries are becoming illegal to distribute (and effectively disappearing down the memory hole) once their clearance rights expire, and new documentaries are often not being made without wealthy sponsors: (via bOING bOING)
But it's particularly difficult for any documentary-makers relying on old news footage, snippets of Hollywood movies or popular music -- the very essence of contemporary culture -- to tell their stories. Each minute of copyrighted film can cost thousands of dollars. Each still photo, which might appear in a documentary for mere seconds, can run into the hundreds of dollars. And costs have been rising steeply, as film archives, stock photo houses and music publishers realize they are sitting on a treasure trove, Else and other filmmakers say.
The American University study (at http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/rock/index.htm) is a fascinating, if dispiriting, look at the tricks documentary-makers have to pull to get around copyright restrictions, from turning off all TVs and radios when filming a subject indoors to replacing a clip of people watching the World Series with a shot of professional basketball on the TV set instead because that's what the filmmaker had rights for.
"Why do you think the History Channel is what it is? Why do you think it's all World War II documentaries? It's because it's public-domain footage. So the history we're seeing is being skewed towards what's fallen into public domain," says filmmaker Robert Stone in the American University study.
A 500 year extension would let Disney track down Shakespeare's heirs and buy all rights to the Bard. No matter how much the heirs wanted, the deal would pay for itself in no time. Every school that ever wanted to perform or study Shakespeare would have to send a check to Disney. Every newspaper or magazine or radio show that wanted to quote the Bard would have to send one, too. So Disney asked, and Congress gave, and the World Intellectual Property Organization followed Congress's example. Disney paid off Shakespeare's heirs, then used the Shakespeare profits to buy all rights from the heirs of Dumas, Dickens, Twain, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker and more. Once most of the films in every other studio's library were subject to Disney's copyright, they went bankrupt or became divisions of Disney.
Then Jimmy Joe Jenkins's DNA proved he was the primary descendent of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.(via bOING bOING)
China Miéville has written a story (for the Socialist Review, of all places), envisioning a privatised, trademarked Xmas:
Don't get me wrong. I haven't got shares in YuleCo, and I can't afford a one-day end-user licence, so I couldn't have a legal party. I'd briefly considered buying from one of the budget competitors like XmasTym, or a spinoff from a non-specialist like Coca-Crissmas, but the idea of doing it on the cheap was just depressing. I wouldn't have been able to use much of the traditional stuff, and if you can't have all of it, why have any? (XmasTym had the rights to Egg Nog. But Egg Nog's disgusting.) Those other firms keep trying to create their own alternatives to proprietary classics like reindeer and snowmen, but they never take off. I'll never forget Annie's underwhelmed response to the JingleMas Holiday Gecko.
No, like most people, I was going to have a little MidWinter Event, just Annie and me. So long as I was careful to steer clear of licenced products we'd be fine.
Ivy decorations you can still get away with; holly's a no-no but I'd hoarded a load of cherry tomatoes, which I was planning to perch on cactuses. I wouldn't risk tinsel but had a couple of brightly-coloured belts I was going to drape over my aspidistra. You know the sort of thing. The inspectors aren't too bad: they'll sometimes turn a blind eye to a bauble or two (which is just as well, because the fines for unlicensed Christmas celebrations are astronomical).
(via bOING bOING)
A US federal appeals court has ruled that all samples must be paid for, regardless whether or not they're recognisable, thus cementing the basis of the permission culture, where everything is intellectual property which must be licensed. Welcome to the Digital Millennium; make sure you've paid your way
The ruling says artists must pay for not only large samples of another artist's work, but also snippets -- smaller notes, chords and beats that are not the artist's original composition -- which had previously been legal, according to The Associated Press
"If you cannot pirate the whole sound recording, can you 'lift' or 'sample' something less than the whole? Our answer to that question is in the negative."
Thank God they're protecting valuable intellectual property from lawless piracy, otherwise capitalism as we know it would collapse and we'd enter a new dark age.
Under the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, repairing tape drives is illegal without permission from the manufacturer, at least if the manufacturer has the foresight to use a copyrighted key code for the maintenance mode in the firmware. The court ruling gave tape drive manufacturer StorageTek an effective monopoly on service for all of its machines. And if something's illegal under US intellectual property law, chances are it'll be illegal under Australian intellectual property law if/when the free trade agreement is passed into law. (via bOING bOING)
Public Enemy's Chuck D and Hank Shocklee on how copyright law changed hip-hop; or the impact that the increasingly greedy demands of owners of samples had on the evolution of hip-hop:
The first thing that was starting to happen by the late 1980s was that the people were doing buyouts. You could have a buyout--meaning you could purchase the rights to sample a sound--for around $1,500. Then it started creeping up to $3,000, $3,500, $5,000, $7,500. Then they threw in this thing called rollover rates. If your rollover rate is every 100,000 units, then for every 100,000 units you sell, you have to pay an additional $7,500. A record that sells two million copies would kick that cost up twenty times. Now you're looking at one song costing you more than half of what you would make on your album.
We were forced to start using different organic instruments, but you can't really get the right kind of compression that way. A guitar sampled off a record is going to hit differently than a guitar sampled in the studio. The guitar that's sampled off a record is going to have all the compression that they put on the recording, the equalization. It's going to hit the tape harder. It's going to slap at you. Something that's organic is almost going to have a powder effect. It hits more like a pillow than a piece of wood. So those things change your mood, the feeling you can get off of a record. If you notice that by the early 1990s, the sound has gotten a lot softer.
Stay Free!: So is that one reason why a lot of popular hip-hop songs today just use one hook, one primary sample, instead of a collage of different sounds?
Chuck D: Exactly. There's only one person to answer to. Dr. Dre changed things when he did The Chronic and took something like Leon Haywood's "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" and revamped it in his own way but basically kept the rhythm and instrumental hook intact. It's easier to sample a groove than it is to create a whole new collage. That entire collage element is out the window.
In the US, it seems you can patent anything, including the secrets of successful relationships. And given that Australia has just committed itself to implementing a US-style patent system, and Europe is adopting US-style software patents, this sort of thing looks likely to be the case for all of McWorld soon. And then it will be legally impossible for anyone to do anything without the backing of a multinational corporation with a patent portfolio and cross-licensing agreements with other patentholders. (via Techdirt)
With the details of the free-trade deal revealed (the farmers got screwed over, and we're getting US-style copyright extension), Labor is making noises about resisting it in parliament. Not sure what that will amount to; possibly a few minor cosmetic changes (the equivalent of demanding better lubricant for when you get forcibly sodomised). Anyway, now may be an excellent time to mail your MP about why copyright extension is a bad idea; perhaps if enough Labor MPs get such letters, they'll show enough spine.
First we had disposable mobile phones (did those ever take off?); and now the latest development in disposable technology is self-destructing DVDs, engineered to become unreadable within 48 hours, thus protecting the integrity of the intellectual property encoded thereon.
Isn't it amazing that so much effort is being put into removing value from objects and making things more fragile and less usable. First there were intentionally broken CDs, sadomasochistic "digital rights management" file formats and software "copy-protection" systems which impede upward compatibility (aside: the main reason why MacOS X software can't run MacOS 9 VST plug-ins is because, with commercial ones being copy-protected (i.e., engineered to depend on low-level quirks of MacOS 9; anywhere else, this would be considered bad programming), they would be unable to run, and there was no point running just the free ones). And now, the wonder of modern technology allows us to have products which turn into garbage within 48 hours, taking up space in landfills and leaching god knows what toxins into the groundwater. But that's just the price we have to pay for protecting the basis of civilized society, the inviolate rule that intellectual property is sacrosanct.
Those defenders of intellectual property, Metallica, are suing a Canadian band for using the E and F chords. Metallica are suing Unfaith, a Canadian independent band, for trademark infringement.
"We sent a demand letter and haven't reached a resolution, so we had to sue," she said. "They continue to shamelessly feature the two chords on their website song samples and we just can't have that."
Ulrich states that he's not trying to prevent Unfaith from using the two chords, only that he feels Metallica should be credited for them whenever used, and is calling for 50% of all revenue generated from any song using them. "It's nothing personal against them," he added. "We intend to enforce our rights with any band intending to use Metallica-branded chords in the future."
And so the space of ideas is being partitioned and enclosed into proprietary domains. First came trademarks on colours and overly broad patents, then AOL Time Warner claimed magic-themed fantasy novels as derivatives of its Harry Potter property, and now Metallica are asserting that they own a combination of two chords. Eventually, we may well end up with a neo-Galambosian dystopia, in which every possible idea belongs to a rightsholder and must be licensed.
A Microsoft PR piece on why Digital Rights Management will make you free: (via Rocknerd)
Documents. Using a simple on-screen dialog prompt built into her word processing application, an advertising copywriter specifies that her document, a draft marketing plan, may be viewed and edited by a selection of the client company's managers for one week. She posts the document to a Web portal to share with them. Based on their feedback, she finalizes the plan and posts it. Managers who downloaded the obsolete draft can no longer open it, which prevents confusion as to which document is current.
And it also has the useful effect of destroying audit trails and suppressing documents which may, in future, come back to haunt their authors. DRM is not a value-neutral technology, as some free-market "libertarian" platygaeans would believe; it's one which reinforces existing power structures, and has more to offer to corporations and authoritarian states than to consumers or whistle-blowers.
Email communications. A senior partner in an accounting firm needs to send email to his partners with a confidential contract proposal attached. Besides specifying who may read the proposal and that they may not copy, paste or edit the information, he specifies that the email itself cannot be forwarded. The recipients' email and word processing applications transparently enforce these policies.
Which also has the nice effect of "de-commodifying" open standards for email. The glorious New Galambosianism of end-to-end total information control would depend on file formats remaining proprietary, a trade secret belonging only to a trusted gatekeeper, i.e., Microsoft. Thus it's hardly surprising that Microsoft, who have built an empire from locking people into proprietary file formats, are advocating such a totalitarian vision as the salvation of Capitalism and Civilisation As We Know It.
These people claim that former RIAA lobbyist Hilary Rosen is now writing intellectual-property laws for the new government of Free Iraq. If this is true, I wonder what bold experiments (abolition of public domain? criminalisation of non-DRM file formats/P2P filesharing? copyright as perpetual property title?) Rosen will have a free hand to try out without the legacy baggage of preexisting laws. Of course, it could be a hoax. (Maybe if the Democrats were in the Whitehouse...) (via bOING bOING)
I know; maybe they can fund the reparation of Iraqi heritage damaged by museum looters by giving the copyrights to Disney or someone and allowing them to invest in rebuilding Mesopotamia, in return for a guarantee that the profits will go swiftly back to head office.
Eternally zealous in the moral defence of capitalism, the Ayn Rand Institute denounce opponents of copyright extension as "Marxists". (Note in particular the prohibition against redistributing the article to media at the bottom of the page.) It's not hard to see how Randism ties in with intellectual-property absolutism, and how short a leap it really is from Ayn Rand to absurdities like Galambosianism. (via Reenhead)
If you break the law, the law will break you: From this week onward, if you live in the UK and burn a CD containing "illicit recordings" -- i.e., anything infringing on copyright, such as a MP3 downloaded from a file-sharing service -- you could be gaoled for 10 years, a more severe sentence than some handed out to murderers, rapists and paedophiles. Uh-oh; better not make that mix CD for the friend I'm going to be visiting in London in that case.
Re: the 1'00" thing. Apparently it's not as absurd as it has been made out to be. Mike Batt, the composer in question is not being sued for putting a track of silence on his CD, but rather, he is being billed for royalties because he credited it to John Cage. And then, when billed for writing royalties, he claimed that the silence credited to Cage was his own, and not Cage's. Which is still absurd, but not the neo-Galambosian outrage it was reported to be.
Batt had used Cage's name for "obvious reasons," Caprioglio said to evoke Cage's provocative 1952 composition. "If Mr. Batt wants to produce a minute of silence under his own name," he conceded, "we would obviously have no right to the royalties."
So in a sense, Batt's defence comes down to "I credited John Cage as a joke, but shouldn't be expected to pay real royalties, because 4'33" is not a real composition"; which sounds a bit too much like the "modern art is rubbish" argument. (via the Horn)
The latest tidings from the brave new era of neo-Galambosian intellectual-property absolutism: John Cage's music publishers are claiming to own the rights to the concept of silence as music. A British music producer has received a legal nastygram from the publishers over a 60-second silent track on a CD he put together. Cage's publishers are claiming that the track is a derivative work of Cage's 4'33". (via bOING bOING)
Hollywood's next power grab over your computer and digital rights: requiring watermark detectors in all analogue-digital converters; i.e., a gatekeeping mechanism ensuring that the digital domain is securely locked down. Needless to say, if they get this through (and they stand a good chance of doing so), it could mean the end of actually useful general-purpose computers and technologies which can be creatively adapted to new purposes. (They can't have that, you see, in case someone adapts them to a purpose that violates their (new, expanded) copyrights, or otherwise puts them out of pocket.)
Which could be disastrous. The technology of steam power was discovered in ancient Greece, but not developed because it didn't fit with the mores of the time, and remained unknown until the Industrial Revolution. Several hundred years ago, the Chinese came close to sailing to Europe and the New World. They had the technology, but turned back by Imperial decree. And now our corporate emperors want to kill off innovation to protect the valuable conditions of scarcity on which their power and wealth are founded.
In short, such a régime has the potential to impede technological development by decades if not centuries. (And the consequences will be felt all over Earth, especially if backed up with US military power, which is backed up with US economic power, which depends on "global stability". If the New Zealanders or Indonesians or someone develop an unencumbered bit-shuffling device industry, watch the high-energy particle beams from Fort Kissinger, high earth orbit, vapourise the offending facilities as if they were Iraqi penicillin factories.)
Biotech companies use algorithmic music composition tools to convert DNA to music; not for artistic reasons, but to take advantage of the virtually perpetual terms of music copyrights (95 years, but extended by law every decade or so), as opposed to 17-year patents. Sounds like post-cyberpunk fiction, doesn't it?
(There we have it: the very concept of "art" is now a weapon of copyright fascism. It doesn't bode well for when the pendulum swings back.) (via bOING bOING)
This was good enough to plagiarise in its entirety: Charlie Stross on copyright fascism:
- The key feature of the political system known as Fascism is that the State is more important than the individual -- your body does not belong to you, it belongs to the State.
- The key feature of the ideological system known as Copyright Fascism is that the Rights holder is more important than the consumer -- your experiences don't belong to you, they belong to the Distributor.
You can identify copyright fascists because they're the guys who say things like "skipping advertising breaks on TV is theft", and apply emotive words like "piracy" (armed robbery and murder on the high seas) to having an unauthorised copy of a piece of software (shoplifting).
There's an agenda at work here, folks. Learn to recognize it.
(NB:I'd use the term "creator" instead of Distributor, except that there are precious few musicians, programmers, authors or editors who'd take such an extremist position. As usual, the ones who are least creative are the ones who are most anxious to defend totalitarianism.)
Welcome to the Digital Millennium: In the spirit of the AOLTW executive who described skipping commercials as theft, here's a list of 10 new copyright crimes for the new millennium; these include things such as inviting friends over to watch pay-per-view and changing radio channels during commercials (which will probably be automatically disabled by legally-mandated standards when digital radio arrives anyway). And, of course, blocking pop-up ads. (via rotten.com)
To protest biotechnology patent laws, which often give multinational corporations absolute rights over basic foodstuffs (even if they had been grown for centuries), a development charity is planning to patent salted potato chips. By patenting a new pre-salted chip, ActionAid are hoping to own the rights to the concept of salted potato chips, which in theory could be used to levy license fees from chip shops under threat of patent infringement lawsuit.
And if you thought the XOR cursor drawing patent was absurd, here is a list of absurd actual US patents. They include things like 3-dimensional pie charts and the use of training manuals. Some of which are almost up there with the Russian bottle patent.
Read: Stanford technology law professor Lawrence Lessig spoke about why expanded copyright laws pose a threat to culture:
"The period of copyright primacy is going to end up as a huge hole in the cultural record."
Lessig said a major problem is the fact that copyrighted material simply vanishes because corporations aren't interested in keeping all that they copyright commercially available. Such material "falls into a black hole where no one will have access to it," he said.
Bad vibes/paranoia/rant: I've been reading K. W. Jeter's Noir recently. It's engrossing; sort of like early William Gibson meets Neal Stephenson, only much darker and more nihilistic. It's quite a good read, though by no means a comfortable one, as the corporate-ruled, monetised dystopia of the book is a little too close to the world we are moving towards, as wealth and power are increasingly concentrated with every multinational corporate merger, bought legislators sign away chunks of sovereignty to multinational treaties, aided by the fact that most people care more about the latest reality TV show than the more boring things happening around them. (Also, the rationales for making copyright violation a capital crime, presented in the book, are a small leap from the arguments of Microsoft and the RIAA. As for reanimating condemned convicts into eternally-suffering trophies: if George W. Bush's America had the technology, how else would they use it?) Sometimes it seems as if the age of liberal democracy (as flawed as it was) is slowly but inexorably coming to an end, to be replaced by a new global feudalism. And while a lot of the technology in the book may be far-fetched, the trends behind it are a bit too ominously familiar.
Law professor Lawrence Lessig on copyright law and its degeneration into a system of heavy-handed control. (via Slashdot)